This is part of my “Rock Harp Diaries” Blog series while touring with legendary guitarist Steve Vai from August 2012 – Dec. 17. I’ll be home Dec. 18th – please join me for my Homecoming Solstice Show in the Boston Area on Fri. Dec. 21st!
This is how I described it in an email to my aunt, who, along with my mother, first introduced me to opera:
I was walking through the old part of Santiago, Spain today, and heard opera. I followed it (of course) and found two men singing in an old arched stone passageway with stairs above and below. They had just finished a song. I leaned against the wall to wait.
The reverb in the passageway was beautiful and I realized they had chosen this spot for the acoustics (also maybe the shelter and foot-traffic)
Behind them was a speaker, in front of them a music stand. To their left, a tall plastic CD holder with a basket for change – and on their right, another basket for change.
On the music stand, along with a book of music, was a small white device – I think a remote-control.
They hit a button and an overture-like began and I after three notes I thought: No … No way. They are NOT going to sing “With a Song in My Heart.” But they DID.
All tenor-chested operatic–accented English and tenor gestures, curly black hair and thick bodies, dressed in overcoats and warm shoes, looking beyond the ragged audience, the passing dogs and bored pedestrians to something inside the stone wall just to my left.
I wondered if they were uncomfortable looking direct at us or if they saw an audience beyond us.
But I was glad nobody looked at me. It was all I could do to keep from flailing myself at the wall and weeping out of sheer joy. I knew I was grinning like a monkey, laughing out loud for the glorious and joyous, worried they thought I was laughing at them, but so deep in utter delight, I couldn’t stop.
It … was … glorious.
I do not love opera in an opera hall. It doesn’t reach me there, with plush seats and costumes and lights and staging, with perfect voices and perfect conditions. Somehow I just don’t hear it.
But here — stumbling on the huge and glorious, in a place way too small for it. Where you feel its hot breath and it pushes you to the wall. The perfectly imperfect voice, revealed exactly where it doesn’t belong – and all the more glorious for being just the slightest out of tune, for imaginary throngs, and a make-believe orchestra — with ordinary people singing and dancing right on the make-believe stage as if they were in the chorus and they just heard their cue.
I don’t know why I can’t hear the ‘perfect’ thing in the ‘perfect’ place. Maybe each perfection cancels the other out. Or maybe that just isn’t my perfection.
But this I love: Music-minus-one … Life-minus-one, all ready and waiting for that ONE to step in and with huge spirit bigger than the Met and La Scala in one, to sing, all heart and gut and loins and toes to a makeshift audience.
Where I stand.
Quite by accident.
Knowing it’s glorious.
(Even as a man with two dogs hurries past in disgust. Would he disdain my weeping laughter? “Stupid tourists – these guys sing here every day!!” Or does he just really need to get home and wishes he could stop? And why do I care??)
Why do I search for glory (my own, I’m embarrassed to say) in great halls and massive audiences when GLORIOUS is anywhere? Maybe everywhere. Why am I embarrassed when I find it??
When I walked away, after some crowd-pleasing light-classics and buying a CD I know I’ll never listen to and which couldn’t possibly be as marvelous as the performance I experienced (but I’ll never know), I got an exquisite tiny encore: the man behind me, walking arm-in-arm with his wife and humming “la donna e mobile” while church bells rang.